Sasol denies claims it intentionally polluted Vaal River

A whistleblower's claims that Sasol is to blame for the intentional pollution of the Vaal River, were vehemently denied by the petrochemical giant at a South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) inquiry on Wednesday.

The SAHRC established the inquiry in September 2018 to determine whether the pollution of the river amounted to an infringement of basic human rights and to establish what caused the contamination in the first place.

Some residents in the Vaal claimed the foul smell in the area made them sick and they wanted their concerns to be attended to urgently.

This led to the establishment of the inquiry and the subsequent deployment of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to the Vaal.

READ: SANDF pulls out all the stops to tackle Vaal River contamination

The whistleblower, who is also an official at the company, submitted that vanadium and potassium carbonate were among some of the dangerous chemicals Sasol continued to spill into the river.

But Sasol's head of group media relations, Alex Anderson, said polluting the river would "not only be irresponsible, but constitute offences and invoke serious criminal and administrative sanctions under the suite of environmental laws we are subject to".

"Our approach to environmental compliance management continues to be transparent and collaborative, and we engage with authorities regularly through established forums and also proactively, where we anticipate or identify compliance challenges," Anderson added.

Anderson said Sasol reported non-compliances and raised corrective and preventative measures "to address such challenges" with relevant authorities.

"The allegations made at the SAHRC inquiry on Wednesday, around vanadium and potassium carbonate being dumped by our Sasol Synfuels Operations into the Vaal River system, are factually incorrect," Anderson told News24. 

READ MORE: Vaal River pollution: 'There have been challenges to compliance', Sasol says

He said the company used the chemicals in its Benfield operation units as agents to protect the metal of the equipment and to absorb carbon dioxide.

However, he said the company managed the chemicals in accordance with the various requirements governing "hazardous substances" and understood the potential harmful impact which they could have on people and the environment.

He claimed Sasol had not been informed of the continuation of the inquiry on Wednesday and that it would be implicated by one of the witnesses.

"We will approach the SAHRC to obtain the testimony in which Sasol, as an interested and affected party, was implicated to study and respond to the SAHRC appropriately".

ALSO READ: HRC wants Edward Zuma to fork out R100K for 'hate speech'

The Human Rights Commission's Gauteng head and chairperson of the inquiry, Buang Jones, told News24 that "Sasol still has until February 28 to make written submissions" to his team in response to the claims.

However, he said he noted with disappointment that Sasol refused his team entry to some parts of its premises during an unannounced visit in December.

"We were not allowed access to the places we needed to go to inspect, but they instead took us on a tour aboard a minibus, seemingly where they wanted us to be."

Jones said the SAHRC was empowered by the Constitution to conduct inspections at any premises, to assess if any human rights were being violated.

In three months, Jones is expected to make public his findings and recommendations.

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